First read for 2017!! Hunting Camp 52 caught my eye earlier this fall and we purchased a copy for our son's birthday. Figured an avid hunter like Clint would enjoy this look at a North Woods deer camp that lasted more than 50 years and included 3 generations of hunters from the same families. While we gave him the book, I was also interested in the story so I borrowed an e-copy from WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium). Author John Marvin Hanson's father was a founding member of the Blue Heaven hunt camp in the Sawyer county forest outside Hayward.
Back in the 1950's counties would let people build hunting shacks in county forests for an annual fee.
The buildings could not have permanent foundations but could the simple constructions (no indoor plumbing or electricity) could remain year after year if the annual fees were paid. Outhouses/privies were built near the cabins and some structures were setup with generators for power.
The men of Blue Heaven (aka Camp 52) were well organized and basically created a club with by-laws, dues to cover expenses, and a strict responsibility list. Equipped with 9 bunks ( 3 sets of triple bunks), the simple cabin was the spot that all gathered for the 9 day gun deer season each year.
Thousands of card games were played at night, as were superb meals shared -- from fresh vension steaks, to a secret spaghetti recipe, to the much anticipated prime rib roast with camp baked potatoes, all prepared on a huge wood cookstove. Logs of successful hunts were kept, and the traditions grew, even including music and skits. Being Wisconsin, there were some "adult beverages" that made their way to the cabin, but don't let that overshadow the true story here -- the story of friendships and family bounding that spanned decades.
Since author John Marvin Hanson was just a kid (or maybe not even born yet) when the camp was built, he was too young to hunt or to accompany his father. We experience his anticipation and joy when he makes his first trips there, and then we see him take his place as one of the adult camp members. Sadly we also experience the aging of the original hunters, but at the same time we see the next generation, John's own two sons, take their place on the bunks, in the hunting stands, and at the card table. Many of the chapters include recipes for their stand-by meals.
Hanson shared that the camp itself was in an area not really conducive for summer use -- too wet, too many mosquitoes, and too many ticks. That meant that the cabin was truly just used for hunting, and maybe for a few spring outings with the wives. Interpretations of the land use laws changed and by the early 2000's Sawyer County was the only one still allowing people to maintain hunting shacks on public lands. When the decision was made to discontinue the 100 permits, Hanson and the Blue Heaven members had just a few years to find a new place for their shack. They made the decision that they wanted to hunt on the same public lands and searched for a bit of nearby land they could use as home base. The book ends as the remaining members (second and third generation hunters) dismantle the shack, selvage what they can, and rebuild
on purchased land.
Having never shot a deer, I still enjoyed this book. Husband hunted for thirty plus years on our own land and introduced both sons to the traditions of the hunt. We often hosted my cousin's husband and sons for opening weekend, and like so many Wisconsin hunters, traditions of camp breakfasts, chili for the thermoses, and night time stories of the one that got away. Now we have moved and no longer have the hunting woods and our sons are making new traditions with extended family and friends, Russ no longer hunts, but we still keep our ears open for tales of the hunt and the times at "hunt camp." If you are a hunter or have experienced the life from a distance like me, you may enjoy this book.